SHERWOOD, Ore. (Sherwood Gazette) — The old dog was spotted wandering the streets of Southeast Portland throughout October.
After the black-and-gray chow was finally picked up by animal control, the scraggly, emaciated dog was deemed unadoptable and likely would have been euthanized until a pair of dedicated volunteers not only stepped in to save her but also found the perfect home for her to live out the rest of her life.
Stella, as she came to be called, now lives a comfortable life on a cattle farm in Corbett, where she can lie down in front of a roaring fire and eat healthy food, and when she goes outside, has a choice of jackets to ward off the winter chill.
But Stella’s story wouldn’t have had a happy ending without a strategy in place and people willing to devote time and resources to help down-on-their-luck dogs like her.
Sherwood residents Gail O’Connell-Babcock and her husband Robert “Reb” Babcock run a nonprofit rescue organization called Watchdog, and Babcock, an attorney, has represented more than 600 complainants in animal rights cases pro bono over the years “to level the playing field,” according to O’Connell-Babcock.
Also on this particular dog-rescue team was Keni Rumble, a Beaverton resident who, with her husband, Gary, runs Odd Cat Out Sanctuary.
Stella was picked up along Southeast 60th Avenue in Portland and put in a kennel at the Multnomah County Animal Services shelter Oct. 29, where various attempts to assess her over a month were met with visible shaking, growling and barking, retreating to the rear of the kennel and initially ignoring treats.
Several rescue groups were contacted about her, but none were interested.
O’Connell-Babcock checks Multnomah County Animal Services’ public records every week, finds dogs that are slated to be euthanized and runs classified ads in many of the Community Newspapers offering them for adoption. So far, O’Connell-Babcock has placed more than two dozen dogs in loving homes.
She explained that she and Reb got started rescuing dogs in 1995 after a Rottweiler named Pookie was ordered put to death by Multnomah County Animal Services after the dog was involved in an incident where a child was injured even though it was not the fault of the dog, which had a benign temperament.
Reb read the hearings report and was struck by the fundamental lack of due process, so he took the case on appeal to the Court of Appeals and won 16 months later. He realized that dog owners in these situations lacked legal representation and were working against a stacked system. Often their dogs were being destroyed because they could not afford attorneys while complainants are represented by the county for free.
The couple, who are working to change the system, spend $400 to $500 per month getting weekly public intake and enforcement records for dogs in the county’s system, and Reb plans to file a public records lawsuit over the issue.
“You can’t turn away from these dogs,” said O’Connell-Babcock, who only saw the old chow once in her kennel. “They are adoptable. I’ve saved a lot of dogs, even ones with special needs. The old chow was out of options. I said to animal services, ‘Let me try and run an ad.’”
The only photo of the dog that O’Connell-Babcock could purchase from animal services was not a good one, but she used it anyway in her classified ad. O’Connell-Babcock and Rumble had been in touch about the dog, but with time running out, Rumble decided to just go and get her.
“My husband and I have a Staffordshire and a half-chow, and I had a full chow before,” Rumble said. “I saw that face, even though the photo was terrible, and I knew I had to go get her. She was going to be killed — she was out of options.
“But I didn’t want Gail to know at first that I was getting her because I didn’t know if we could keep her. At the shelter, she had been moved to an office, and I was told that for a month, they hadn’t been able to handle her.”
The dog was pacing the floor, but Rumble eventually won her over with cheese she had stashed in her pocket, with the dog eventually letting Rumble scratch her behind the ears.
“She reeked and had bad breath and was drooling,” Rumble said. “I went to do the paperwork and get a collar. They gave it to me free, and I got a big, round Kirkland dog bed. In December there was a special adoption fee, starting with $1 on Dec. 1. I got her Dec. 2, so the fee was $2.
“Once home, I just got in the shower with her, and she did OK. She didn’t like her face getting wet, but I lathered her up and rinsed her, and she liked the toweling off part.”
By the next morning, the dog wouldn’t let Rumble out of her sight and fit right in with the Rumbles’ other two dogs. “They got along fine and were just hanging out with each other,” Rumble said.
Rumble contacted Crossroads Veterinary Hospital in Sherwood and took the dog there for an exam. The teeth she had left were bad, but Rumble was told the dog would need to gain weight before undergoing anesthesia for further treatment.
Rumble also talked to a groomer at the nearby Paws for Elegance and made an appointment for grooming, which greatly improved the chow’s appearance.
“I had her six days,” Rumble said. “Gail was running ads, and we were staying in touch. We talked every day about the dog’s progress.”
O’Connell-Babcock also has worked to make sure the dog didn’t already belong to someone else, saying, “A friend put together a flier about this missing chow and asked people at a dog park near where she was found if they had seen her with anyone.”
Finally, the perfect response came to O’Connell-Babcock’s ad: Karl Vockert, who raises cattle on 70 rolling acres outside Corbett that his parents purchased in 1941, was one of the first callers.
He offered Stella a home, so O’Connell-Babcock and Rumble drove her there Dec. 8.
“We drove up the steep driveway, got out and saw these enormous cattle looking at this little dog,” O’Connell-Babcock said. “She went toward them, and the cattle ran off. We just laughed. Karl said to let her off her leash, and she roamed around but wouldn’t go to him.
“We went inside, and Kurt went to the refrigerator and brought out a handful of pork roast. Half an hour later, she was nudging his hand.”
O’Connell-Babcock called the next morning, “and Kurt said the dog was doing fine and eating bacon with him,” she said.
On Jan. 2, O’Connell-Babcock and Rumble made another visit to see Vockert and Stella, bringing along some high-nutrition dog food and another coat for her to wear “so she will have one to trade out,” O’Connell-Babcock said.
As they drove up, Stella, wearing a buffalo-plaid jacket, was attached to a long rope so she could maneuver around the yard. She barked protectively as the women approached, and Vockert said, “I haven’t heard her bark like that before.”
Vockert explained that when he saw the classified ad for the dog in the Gresham Outlook, “I was on my fourth or fifth eggnog.” He added, “The ad said she was old. Well, I’m old. Basically, it was because it was a chow. It was just the picture of her. I have an old chow that is staying with my girlfriend.”
Vockert said that when Rumble, O’Connell-Babcock, and O’Connell-Babcock’s son Robin arrived with the dog, “I felt that after they’d driven that far, I should make the commitment to keep her. I figured she would like it around the farm and have a little more freedom.”
However, one day Stella got a little too much freedom. After Vockert let her outside to go to the bathroom, she “took off down the canyon and ran back and forth to the neighbors,” he said. “They herded her up to the road, and I was up and down the driveway twice. I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”
Vockert served in both the Army and Air Force, and his daughter and one son work for the Department of Defense while his other son is serving in Afghanistan, due to return home in February or March.
Vockert also is quite the homemaker, giving one of the women a brick of butter that he made and a huge bag of brown sugar to the other, and he volunteers at the Columbia Grange Helping Hands food shelter stocking shelves.
While the women were there, Vockert cut up a plateful of roasted chicken for Stella because she could only eat soft food due to the poor condition of her teeth. “I call her a chow hound,” he joked.
Both O’Connell-Babcock and Rumble were pleased to see how much weight Stella had already gained over her original weight of 32 pounds.
While the trio talked, Stella padded around the house, alternating between the kitchen, the living room where there was a roaring fire in the fireplace, and the bedroom, where she has her special spot with blankets and toys on the floor.
“The good Lord was looking down the day I found her,” Vockert said.
(Update: Vockert reported that every time he brushed Stella’s teeth, her gums bled, so in mid-January, when she was healthy enough, he took her to his veterinarian’s clinic in Southeast Portland. The veterinarian extracted 17 teeth as they were all were down to bone.
Stella did well during the procedure and got up in the middle of the night for food, so her hearty appetite wasn’t diminished, and she now consistently answers to her new name.)